Four Republican senators joined Democrats in shooting down an amendment to a massive defense authorization package that would have reinstated troops discharged for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed the Senate 83-11 Thursday night, and along with it a provision overturning the Biden administration’s service-wide vaccine requirement. Republican Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mike Rounds of South Dakota voted no on a last-minute amendment to the bill re-enlisting thousands of troops separated for refusing the vaccine mandate, collapsing the proposal 54 to 40.
“These were direct orders from commanding officers,” Cassidy said in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation, referring to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who announced the vaccine mandate. “I voted to end the COVID vaccine mandate in the military, but it is not Congress’s place to intervene in the chain of command and set a precedent for military personnel to ignore direct orders.” (RELATED: The Army Has Approved Just 20 Permanent Religious Vaccine Exemptions Out Of Thousands Of Requests)
The Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have separated at least 8,400 active duty and reserve troops for spurning the Department of Defense’s (DOD) August 2021 requirement that all servicemembers receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to information the DOD provided to the DCNF. While the bicameral defense bill released late Tuesday directs the Pentagon to rescind the mandate, it stopped short of requiring the military to restore discharged troops to their prior positions or provide reparations.
We can’t take back the hardship that the military vaccine mandate has inflicted on countless servicemembers. But by adopting this amendment, we can recognize an injustice and take steps to restore those brave men and women who deserve our best. pic.twitter.com/vPq0TRo0jr
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) December 15, 2022
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas reintroduced a portion of the AMERICANS Act, which revoked the Department of Defense’s vaccination mandate, that was left out of the final NDAA text ahead of the vote Thursday.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that the Biden administration is trying to coerce our men and women in uniform to violate their conscience and religious beliefs, let alone on an issue as polarizing as the COVID-19 vaccine. The AMERICANS Act will ensure that these and similar efforts to politicize our military on this issue are blocked,” Cruz said in a statement after introducing the act with his Republican co-sponsors in May.
Defense leaders continue to maintain that ensuring the overall health of individual servicemembers, including by receiving complete doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, is a “readiness issue.” The White House reiterated support for the vaccination mandate on Dec. 5, Fox News reported.
Republican Sens. Cruz, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee did not vote in Thursday evening’s session.
Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson “agreed to shepherd the Johnson-Cruz amendment to a vote this week since Sen. Cruz was away from Washington,” a spokesperson for Cruz told the DCNF.
Cruz intends to file an updated AMERICANS Act in the next Congress “to continue fighting for members of the Armed Services who were wrongfully discharged,” the spokesperson added.
Romney, Collins and Rounds did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.
This story has been updated with comment from a spokesperson for Sen. Ted Cruz.
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